Saag Paneer | Spinach Curry

Last Updated on October 27, 2022 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

Saag paneer. A quick and easy spinach curry recipe that rivals an Indian restaurant with paneer and spinach. Delicious and healthy. You’ll love it!

Easy Saag Paneer Spinach Curry recipe

Saag Paneer is a healthy vegetarian curry from Northern India that literally translates to mean “Greens-Cheese”.

It is a bright, fresh and quick-cooking recipe (compared to many curries that are slowly simmered for hours) with spinach leaves and paneer.

I make this Saag Paneer recipe on REPEAT for my family and I guarantee you’ve never seen three small children inhale spinach so fast. ⁠

It was recently featured by the Toronto Star in “Dishes That Kids Will Ask For Again and Again“.

What is the Difference between Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer?

Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer are nearly identical dishes, but Palak specifically means spinach. Saag Paneer may use spinach and/or other similar dark, leafy greens.

In my Saag Paneer, I have used all spinach, or any combination of spinach, kale, Swiss chard, the tops from a bunch of beets, and even a handful of broccolini. Every variation I’ve tried has been excellent.

It turns out to be a great way to clear out the crisper drawer.

Mustard greens are a traditional option for Saag, too, but less easily found in North American grocery stores. 

Adding in some ingredients to the Paneer dish

What Does Paneer Taste Like?

Paneer is a mild, milky fresh, firm cheese made simply by boiling whole milk and curdling it with lemon juice or vinegar. Once the curds and the whey have separated, you strain and press it into a block. (Here’s my simple Homemade Paneer recipe.) 

The result is a creamy, but not-too-rich, block with a subtle tang and nice, bouncy texture.

Commonly referred to as Indian cottage cheese, paneer is a beautiful canvas for all kinds of bold Indian flavours.

Paneer Substitutes

There are lots of perfectly-excellent substitutions for paneer.

Interestingly, paneer is made exactly like ricotta, just strained of more liquid until firm (details below).

Halloumi or feta also make good excellent swaps for paneer. For either, start with half the quantity (they’re heavier and saltier, so you’ll want a higher greens-to-cheese ratio).

To use feta, just nestle it on top of the finished dish and cover pan to warm through. ⁠

How to Substitute Ricotta for Paneer

To make the ricotta to a firm enough to cut in cubes and use as a stand-in for paneer, you’ll need to remove the excess moisture. Here’s what to do:

  • Line a strainer with cheesecloth (or a clean dish towel)
  • Pour in a tub of ricotta
  • Pick up the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze the cheese to release as much moisture as you can.
  • Flatten it into a brick shape (while still wrapped in the cheesecloth) and place it on the counter on top of paper towels.
  • Put your heaviest pan on top to press it down, and let it drain for about an hour.

While you drain your ricotta, you can proceed with the rest of the recipe – the paneer only appears in the last step.

Anytime you swap in drained ricotta for paneer, be very gentle with it once you stir it in – it’s a wee bit fragile (but rest assured, even if the cubes don’t stay perfect, it will still taste perfect!).

Tips for the Best-Ever Saag Paneer

The biggest secret to Indian cooking that I have discovered is patience.

You need to resist the urge to toss everything in together at the same time – the magic happens in stepwise fashion.

  1. Really take your time with the onions – they should be caramelized, not browned or just softened. This step alone makes or breaks a curry.
  2. Then add the garlic and ginger. Then the spices. Everything gets its turn in the hot oil (which is not used in particularly modest amounts – the fat makes a big difference to the flavour).
  3. All throughout, you need to season it well. A curry without enough salt will simply not taste good.
Cooking in the spices

The Ingredients You Need:

  • Spinach: you can use fresh or frozen spinach (just pour boiling water over the frozen kind to make it ready to go) or substitute kale, Swiss chard, the tops from a bunch of beets, or mustard greens.
  • Ghee: if you’re not familiar with it, ghee is just butterfat. Butter is actually made up of about 20% water plus milk solids. To make ghee, butter is boiled and the milk solids are removed, leaving a toasty, delicious golden oil. The grocery stores in my area are well stocked with ethnic foods, so I have it on hand – but you can substitute butter or your favourite cooking oil.
  • Onions: as with many indian curries, the onions in saag paneer are cooked down to golden and ultra soft. This serves as the naturally-sweet counterpoint of a spiced dish.
  • Fenugreek: this seed, also called methi, is only spice ingredient that warrants explaining. It has a distinct, pungent flavour that is a big component of British and North American “curry powder”. So if you can’t find fenugreek, use the curry powder (different from garam masala) you can get at any North American grocery store.  You could alternatively add a handful of fresh fenugreek leaves with the greens.
  • Cubed paneer: which you can get in the fancy cheese section of any grocery store these days, but see above for substitutions.
  • Cream: full-fat yogurt or sour cream are acceptable stand-ins, this provides a subtle creaminess to balance a veg-forward flavour.
  • Lemon juice: hits the final flavour point of the spicy-sweet-tangy triangle that makes this dish so irresistible.
  • Ginger, garlic, cumin seeds and turmeric: all straightforward flavour-building pantry staples. (I freeze ginger and minced garlic so it’s always ready to go!)
Adding the Paneer onto the cooked spices

How to Serve It:

This is an easy and deliciouscozy and healthy lunch or dinner. You can garnish it with fresh cilantro (coriander leaves), limes, microgreens, or thinly-sliced serrano chile if you like.

Basmati rice or chapati (a.k.a. roti) are great accompaniments.

You could add a simple salad of tomato and onion dressed with lemon and olive oil. The tomatoes and citrus add vitamin C which helps the body to absorb more iron from the naturally-iron-rich greens.

For a bigger meal, add an Indian Cucumber Yogurt Salad on the side.

Other Super-Popular Indian Recipes You Don’t Want to Miss:

Easy Saag Paneer Spinach Curry Recipe

Saag Paneer | Spinach Curry

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Main Course
Indian

Ingredients
  

  • 16 oz frozen spinach (or swap in any leafy green vegetable)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 4 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger finely minced or grated
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp fenugreek powder or curry powder
  • 3 tbsp cream or yogurt
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt or more, to taste
  • 12 oz paneer or drained ricotta in 1/2 inch cubes

Instructions
 

  • Place frozen spinach in a blender or food processor, drizzling it with the boiling water as you go so it wilts and you can fit it all in. Process until very finely chopped, but not pureed. Set aside.
  • Heat ghee or butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and half the salt; cook, stirring often, until very soft and golden. Reduce the heat if onions are browning – low and slow is the goal.
  • Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the turmeric, cumin and fenugreek powder and cook 1 minute more. Stir in the spinach, bring to a simmer, then add cream or yogurt, lemon juice and remaining salt. Gently stir in paneer and heat through.

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[…] Saag Paneer is a healthy vegetarian Indian curry that literally means “Spinach-Cheese”. It is bright, fresh and quick cooking (compared to many curries that are slowly simmered for hours). I make this Saag Paneer recipe on REPEAT for my family and I guarantee you’ve never seen three small children inhale spinach so fast. ⁠ […]

Giftbasketworldwide
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing this delightful recipe. I can hardly wait to try it.

om kumar
7 months ago

Lovely recipe. I have tried many many of your recipes and they all turn out lovely! My kids used to love only restaurant North Indian dishes. Being a South Indian, I could never capture that. But with your recipes, my kids are enjoying home food 😊 Thank you!!

Erin
Erin
2 months ago

5 stars
Such a great recipe! So easy and very tasty! A great way to get your veggies in

Kelly Fowler
Kelly Fowler
1 month ago

Have you ever tried to use coconut milk instead of the cream?

Erin W
Erin W
1 month ago

4 stars
I made this tonight, and the family loved it. I found the paneer a bit bland, and way to add more flavor? It could be the paneer I bought? Thanks!

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